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Troops to help contain outbreak

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THE Armed Forces will deploy 100 soldiers to San Luis, Pampanga to help with the culling of some 600,000 fowl because of an outbreak of bird flu, a military official said Wednesday.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs Office head Col. Edgard Arevalo said 100 soldiers would be initially deployed to help with the culling of fowl after Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol sought military assistance in the villages of San Carlos and Sta. Rita in the town of San Luis, Pampanga.

The troops would be deployed Thursday, Arevalo said.

In a press briefing, Piñol said his office was having hard time culling about 600,000 fowl and preventing the spread of flu to other parts of Central Luzon.

FOWL PLAY. A man sells a culled chicken in a side street of San Antonio, Nueva Ecija. Prices of chicken in some areas dropped and stocks were slashed after an outbreak of bird flu in Pampanga. In Balintawak market, the  price of chicken went down to as low as P120 per kilo, from around P140 to P150 prior to the reported bird flu outbreak. Last Friday, the government confirmed its first bird flu outbreak after 37,000 fowls died in six poultry farms in San Luis town, Pampanga. Lino Santos

The avian flu outbreak in San Luis, Pampanga was discovered following the deaths of around 37,000 fowl, mostly quail and ducks last April.

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“I have asked the Philippine Army to provide us additional warm bodies to help us in depopulating the farms,” Piñol said in a morning press briefing Wednesday.

For now, Arevalo said although the Agriculture Department asked for 400 men, the military is ready to mobilize at least 100 troops initially from the Northern Luzon Command based in San Miguel, Tarlac to San Luis, Pampanga.

Piñol said Wednesday he will seek an initial budget of P100 million to help farmers affected by the bird flu outbreak in Pampanga.

Piñol said a total of 36 farms have already been listed to be part of the depopulation process and these would involve 600,000 fowl. The DA earlier put the number at a lower 200,000 fowl in six farms.

“The offer to depopulate came from the farmers themselves because they are having difficulty selling their products. I will ask the President for an immediate release of calamity funds. Based on our computation, P 52.8 million will be needed as compensation for those 600,000 fowl,” Piñol said.

Piñol said the culling is expected to be finished by Saturday as the Philippine Army already committed to send one battalion to help.

Piñol said that as of Tuesday, a total of 73,110 layer chickens, ducks, fighting cocks and native chicken have already been culled. He added that all culled birds would be accounted for and their owners compensated.

Piñol said he also ordered the investigation of the chief quarantine officer of Batangas port after it was reported that 1,500 eggs coming from Candaba and Batangas were seized in Katiklan airport.

“This is a violation of our memorandum circular. An investigation is now ongoing. We will impose administrative sanctions and even look at criminal liabilities should it be proven that they allowed shipments of the egg and egg products and poultry product,” said Piñol.

Piñol said they also received a report from the National Meat Inspection Service that a total of 21 tons of dressed chicken from Manila was confiscated in Cagayan de Oro port.

“We still have to ban the shipment from Luzon to Visayas or Mindanao and I hope that people will understand that. We will file charges because they are violating quarantine procedures. They can accuse me of overreacting but I will not let this [bird flu] spread in Visayas and Mindanao,” he said.

Meanwhile, two poultry workers from San Luis who were said to be showing flu-like symptoms have tested negative for the bird flu virus, the Health Department said Wednesday.

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said the two farm workers can now return to work. They were given anti-viral prophylaxis to ensure their safety.

The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine on Wednesday released the results of the laboratory tests on the swab and blood samples collected from the workers, aged 18 and 28.

Ubial said out of the 14 farm workers who were tested, two were isolated after showing flu-like symptoms. She said one had fever and the other had a cough and colds.

DOH spokesman Eric Tayag urged the public not to panic, saying the DA is doing its best to prevent the infection from affecting other poultry farms.

At present, he said it’s an animal health problem because the bird flu virus infected only animals.

Tayag said getting anti-human influenza shots cannot protect a person against animal virus. However, it could prevent virus mutation in case a human sick with influenza gets exposed to an animal infected with bird flu.

“This [mutation] is what we have been closely looking out for because it was the start of the pandemic influenza [in the past],” he said.

Health experts have assured the public the Philippines is prepared to deal with the problem even if humans get infected by the outbreak in Pampanga.

He added that the country started preparing in 1997 when the first bird flu case was reported in Hong Kong.

Moreover, he said government hospitals are equipped with “personal protective equipment” for health personnel handling such cases. Health workers have also been trained in dealing with infectious diseases.

Poultry raisers in Candaba, Pampanga are losing P5 million a day because of the bird flu scare, even though they are outside the seven-kilometer control area where the disease has broken out, the town’s mayor Danilo Baylon said.

He appealed to the government to let the public know that poultry products from Candaba are safe for human consumption.

“At least 50 percent of our poultry products go to the Visayas and Mindanao. But since last Saturday, our raisers can no longer sell and distribute their produce that much,” Baylon said.

“Everyday, ducks lay eggs as their raisers continue to spend more and more for their sustenance. But there are fewer buyers nowadays because of reports of a bird flu.”

Due to an oversupply of eggs, duck raisers are forced to turn the eggs into salted eggs to prevent them from going into waste, he said.

Even though they are outside the seven-kilometer control area and are allowed to ship their products out to other parts of Luzon, Candaba is experiencing an 80 percent drop in its distribution and sale of its ducks and eggs, Baylon said.

The Bureau of Animal Industry earlier issued a memo saying that the “Luzon-to-Luzon movement of birds, including poultry meat, day-old chicks, eggs, semen, manure and other products may be allowed provided [these are obtained] outside the seven-km radius control area.”

But Candaba was under close watch because of the high number of ducks being raised there.

“We have already been given the veterinary health certificates and meat inspection certificates that there was no avian flu case reported in Candaba,” Baylon said. “We call on the government to help us tell the people about it.”

He lauded the Department of Agriculture, however, for lifting the shipment ban.

Candaba is the biggest supplier of fertilized duck eggs, or balut.

In another news conference also in Quezon City, Irwin Ambal, lawyer-president of the Philippine Egg Board, commended DA and BAI for acting swiftly and decisively in containing the first outbreak of avian influenza in the country.

“We urge our fellow poultry farmers to remain vigilant, and monitor and report any unusual avian disease that they may encounter,” he said.

“To the public in general, given the effective government response and containment of the avian flu case in a small town in [San Luis] Pampanga, we would like to assure you that all poultry products reaching the shelves in our market are free from the avian flue virus and have always been safe to eat.”

Former President and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo assured the public that both local and national governments have exerted efforts to arrest the avian flu outbreak.

At the same time, Arroyo called on the Department of Agriculture to conduct a thorough investigation to determine the source of the infection to prevent the occurrence of another outbreak in the future.

“My office is closely monitoring the issue involving the bird flu virus in some barangays in San Luis, Pampanga. While the outbreak does not affect my district, I have been closely coordinating with local chief executives in my district who have poultry farms in their areas to implement precautionary measures to ensure that their livestock remain free of the virus,” Arroyo said in a statement.

“I have also been informed that the provincial government of Pampanga has been in close cooperation with the Department of Agriculture to contain the spread of the virus,” Arroyo added.

She sad the the Pampanga provincial government will also extend financial and technical assistance to all affected poultry farm owners.

“As additional preventive measure, the provincial government has also ordered the inspection of all poultry farms in the province,” Arroyo said. With Rio N. Araja, Macon Ramos-Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz

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